December 2012 Archives

Former Jacksonville police officer pleads no contest to soliciting a prostitute on duty

December 31, 2012

A disgraced former Jacksonville police officer pleaded no contest last week to the Jacksonville criminal charge of soliciting a prostitute while on duty and in uniform earlier this year. As part of his sentence, David Sumlin was put on Duval County probation for four months and was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, according to a report on First Coast News. The plea came just one month after he was arrested in Northeast Florida on two counts of soliciting for prostitution, a relatively short turn-around for a criminal case. Both charges are second-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to 60 days in jail. As part of the agreement last week, the state dropped one count and Sumlin pleaded no contest to the second.

A no contest plea means that the defendant is choosing not to fight the charges, but is technically not pleading guilty. In the end, it doesn't really matter because the defendant is adjudicated guilty so all of the same penalties apply and as they would if he pleaded guilty in this Jacksonville misdemeanor crimes case.

Police had been tipped off that Sumlin had been soliciting prostitutes while he was on duty and officers set up a sting with a decoy prostitute to catch Sumlin in the act, the television station reported. Conservations with the confidential informant were recorded, so any evidence would likely be played in court if Sumlin opted to take the case all the way to trial. Sumlin, an eight-year veteran of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, resigned from his position shortly after being arrested in November. In terms of punishment and time behind bars, Sumlin's crime is not overly serious, as evidenced by the fact that the maximum punishment is only two months in jail for each count. But, it terms of longer-term consequences, Sumlin will be paying for this crime for some time. He has already lost his job and will likely have a tough time finding another position in law enforcement.

In most misdemeanor cases in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties, a defendant is sentenced to some form of Florida probation and will generally have to complete community service. The sentences are set up to provide some sort of punishment and incentive not to commit a similar crime, but to also allow people to recover and continue productive lives after making a mistake. But if a person fails to meet the conditions of their probation, they are then opening themselves up to a Jacksonville Probation Violation and can be sentenced to maximum time they would have faced. People can move on after a misdemeanor if they complete probation, but defendants must work to get there.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney has represented thousands of clients charged with misdemeanors. Many have negotiated deals with the state for community service and probation, completing their sentence and moving on with their lives. Others have been exonerated completely. Our Jacksonville misdemeanor crimes attorney will thoroughly investigate your case and advise you of your best options going forward.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Misdemeanor Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How is "value" established in Jacksonville theft cases?

December 29, 2012

As a Jacksonville Theft Attorney, I have represented hundreds of people accused of stealing. There are several Duval County Theft charges, including petit theft (also referred to as petty theft) and grand theft. Stealing is considered a Petit Theft in Florida if the value of the items taken is $300.00 or less. If the value is below $100.00, the theft is considered a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail. If the value of the property is between $100.00 and $300.00, it is considered a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. If the value of the stolen items is more than $300.00, the theft is considered a felony in Jacksonville.

In order for the Jacksonville State Attorney's Office to prove the enhanced crimes of theft (Jacksonville first degree misdemeanor and felony theft), the state's lawyers must prove "value". Under Florida law, value is considered the market value of the property at the time and place of the theft, or if that amount cannot be ascertained, the replacement cost of the property near the time of the theft. In my Duval, Clay and Nassau County theft cases, if the prosecutor does not prove the value of the merchandise, the state attorney cannot enhance the theft charge.

In a recent case in South Florida, a criminal defendant was convicted of first degree petit theft. When the victim was asked how much her property (jewelry, camera and remote controls) was worth, she responded that she wasn't sure. The victim speculated amounts. The defendant's criminal defense attorney argued that the state attorney did not prove value beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellate court agreed. The court found that the prosecutor on the theft case had to provide competent substantial evidence showing that the stolen property was between $100 and $300. Although the owner of stolen property is generally competent to testify as to the value of their property, they must not only show that they are the owner, but that the victim was familiar with the property. The Florida courts have a two step test to determine what is enough evidence to prove value. First, the owner has to show that they have "personal knowledge" of the property, such as the cost and condition of the items. Second, the Florida state attorney has to present enough evidence to prove the value. A victim's opinion on value, without more, is not enough to sustain a conviction for a first degree misdemeanor petit theft in Florida.

Jacksonville theft charges can tarnish your record forever, because theft crimes are considered crimes of dishonesty. If you or a loved one has been accused or arrested for any type of Northeast Florida theft crime, call The Mussallem Law Firm 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call our Duval County Theft Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, at (904) 365-5200 for a Free Consultation today.

After first conviction thrown out, woman gets life instead of 35 years on Jacksonville felony murder charge

December 28, 2012

Shaketa Sharell Jones was convicted of the same crime, the same charges, the same everything. But the second time around, she was sentenced to life in prison on felony murder and armed robbery charges in Jacksonville, instead of the 35 years she received on her first conviction, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Jones was convicted this month for the second time for her role in planning a Gate gas station robbery her boyfriend was carrying out when he was shot and killed by two Jacksonville police officers in 2010. She was initially convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 35 years in prison, but her convictions were reversed because of an error during the jury selection process. The state took Jones to trial again this month and she was convicted again of the same charges. Assuming she would have earned gain time and served the 85 percent of her sentence that most inmates in the Florida Department of Corrections system serve, Jones, 31, would have been released from prison at about age 60. Now, she'll be in prison for the rest of her life with no chance of getting out. The only thing that changed in the case was the initially ruling was reversed on what appears to be a technicality. And Jones is the one being held accountable for it with a significantly tougher sentence than she received the first time around. But her fate was in the hands of a different judge, who saw the case differently and handed down a life sentence.

Jones was charged with murder under a Florida law that allows prosecutors to charge a person with murder is f they are committing a felony when another person is killed. Police said Jones was the mastermind behind a series of armed robberies and was serving as the lookout and talking to her boyfriend Jessie Cooper when he was robbing a gas station. Police had been following Jones and staking out the Gate station, so they approached Cooper immediately after he fled the store. Police said they told Cooper to show his hands and, when he didn't, officers shot and killed him, the newspaper reported.

In many Jacksonville criminal court cases, a sentence that a person could have gotten in a negotiated plea is often lower than what he or she receives if convicted at trial. It tends to fly in the face of a person's right to a trial in front of a jury of his or her peers, but that's a reality of the system. Jones experienced a similar fate, only her sentence was hiked up after her appeal. There are inherent risks in any aspect of trying to dispose of a criminal case - whether it's a negotiated sentence of pushing a case to trial. Our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney has represented thousands of defendants over the years and will investigate the case against you or your loved one, then lay out all of the options so you can make an informed decision.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Felony Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State charges felonies in Jacksonville graffiti, vandalism ring

December 26, 2012

Police in Duval County wrapped up an eight-month investigation and are pursuing Jacksonville felony charges against at least five men charged with spray painting buildings and railroad cars near a historic neighborhood. Seventy charges have been filed against 11 different people, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Fives arrests have been made since October, the newspaper reported. One man is charged with more than 20 felonies, including Jacksonville burglary, criminal mischief causing more than $1,000 worth of damage and interfering with a railroad train. All charges are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. That means one person alone is facing more than 100 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines for spray-painting and damaging property.

While decades behind bars for these crimes are pretty unlikely in this case, police don't conduct eight-month investigations to see people get slapped on the wrist. Authorities must believe there is a serious graffiti and vandalism issue in Jacksonville and they'll be looking to these cases to send a message that significant penalties can be levied for these crimes. This is likely a case where the penalties could be more monetary in terms of paying back the businesses and property owners for the damage that was caused, assuming it can be proven, as opposed to stacking years of prison time on the defendants in this case.

Police told the newspaper it costs railroad companies about $3,000 to paint and clean up a rail car once it has been hit by graffiti. A string of vandalisms in Jacksonville's Riverside neighborhood last summer caused about $30,000 worth of damage and local business owners have been fighting back by painting over the graffiti quickly, the newspaper reported. But painting over the vandalism takes time and money -- expenses business owners have to come out of their own pocket for, the newspaper reported.

Restitution for the property owners will likely be a key point in any plea negotiations, if they are taking place. The graffiti is often publicized on local websites and the artists "tag" their work with their code names, essentially putting a signature on their crimes. It gives them credit among the subculture of graffiti "artists," but it doesn't appear to leave much room for a defense if the law comes calling, as it has in this case. Graffiti and vandalism seem like minor charges, Jacksonville misdemeanors that teen-agers pick up while doing things teen-agers eventually come to regret. But these charges are felonies and with burglary charges added, likely for breaking into a railcar to paint it, the charges are serious and have some serious consequences attached.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Duval, Clay or Nassau County, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a Free Consultation. Our Duval County Misdemeanor Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jury significantly reduces Jacksonville criminal charges for man accused of killing one, injuring two in 2007

December 24, 2012

The Duval County state attorney had a man charged with second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery for allegedly killing one and injuring two in a 2007 fight. But a Jacksonville jury this month found Joshula T. Oliver guilty of a reduced charge of manslaughter and not guilty of the two Jacksonville battery charges, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The case was nearly five years old before it made it to a trial - a long time even for a legal system that can get bogged down.

The verdicts have to be considered a win for Oliver, even though he is looking at up to 15 years in prison. Had he been convicted of murder, Oliver faced up to life in prison and up to 30 years a piece on the two aggravated battery charges. From the perspective of a Jacksonville Aggravated Battery Attorney, it will be interesting to see how much time Oliver gets next month. In some cases when a jury reduces the Duval criminal charges, a judge will give the defendant the maximum penalty and it has the appearance of the judge disagreeing with the verdict and hammering the defendant anyway. That may or may not be the case in those sentences, because the judge could have been leaning toward the maximum regardless of which count the person was convicted of, but it can have that appearance. Either way for Oliver, he has been in jail for five years awaiting trial and will receive credit for that time, so if he does get 15 years he'll have about 10 to go.

When juries are given their instructions by the judge, they are also told about other charges they can consider if they don't think the standards are met for what the state has charged. These are called "lesser included offenses." In Oliver's case, manslaughter was a lesser included offense as an alternative to murder. Police said Oliver stabbed a man during a fight at a Southside bar and two other men were seriously injured when they were stabbed while trying to help the first victim. Oliver drove away from the bar, but later turned himself in, the newspaper reported. Though it's difficult to presume what a jury means by a verdict, it appears here the jury thought the stabbing was part of a fight that escalated, Oliver wasn't intending to kill anyone and the state couldn't prove Oliver was the one who stabbed the other two men.

Juries play a critical role in our criminal justice system and have a tremendous amount of power in changing the charges or even finding people not guilty of the crimes they were charged with. But the ultimate say in terms or sentencing lies with the judge. We'll see next month how much time Oliver gets.

If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Defense Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Battery Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man sentenced to four years in prison for role in shooting, despite lack of proof he shot anyone

December 21, 2012

Police were not able to prove Toddrick Ashley shot anyone in a Jacksonville mass shooting that injured 11 people in 2011, but Ashley will still serve four years in prison. There were too many people at the shooting scene to prove what exactly happened, though police said Ashley opened fire at a party of about 150 people at a Jacksonville park, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Ashley, who was released from prison just months before the shooting after serving time for Jacksonville Grand Theft, was arrested by a task force two weeks after the shooting and police found a gun inside his home, the newspaper reported.

Prosecutors ended up charging Ashley with two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in Duval County and a jury convicted him of the charges. He was sentenced last week to four years in prison and five years of probation once he is released. The charge is one the state often files in cases like this where there is little proof of the actual crime, but is still trying to punish someone in the case. It is one of the most cut and dried charges the state can possibly file. There are only two elements the state needs to prove: that the defendant is a convicted felon and that he had a gun. That's all.

A convicted felon is not permitted to possess, much less own a firearm. The charge is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. So Ashley was facing 30 years in prison for his connection to a shooting police could not prove. The judge, however, chose to sentence him to a fraction of what he was facing. But as a felon with a gun, there was very little Ashley could do as a defense. As long as he had a gun, the jury has little choice but to find him guilty. Ashley can deny any involvement in the shooting - which he must have or else he would have been charged with attempted murder or another charge that had to do with the physical shooting. Prosecutors often file this Jacksonville Gun Crimes charge as part of several other charges, for example in an armed robbery. In some cases, the jury will come back with a not guilty verdict on most of the charges, but guilty on the possession of a firearm with a convicted felon, simply because the proof is generally there.

And it is a crime. Think of it as a type of permanent probation, just involving a firearm. Much like someone on probation in Duval County has a specific set of rules to follow before the probation can be terminated, a released felon must do the same. The difference is a felon with a gun faces a brand new Jacksonville gun crimes charge with a 15-year maximum penalty - far tougher than simply violating probation.

If you or a loved one needs a gun crimes attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Clay County man convicted of murder and aggravated battery could be freed on Stand Your Ground claim

December 19, 2012

A judge vacated a 20-year prison sentence of Clay County man last week, getting a man initially convicted of murder a step closer to leaving prison. Jonathan David Williams was convicted in 2008 of murder and aggravated battery in Clay County for killing a man and injuring a teen after firing shots when a group of people came to his home to collect a $35 debt, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. But the charges and convictions have been eroding away since. The murder conviction was overturned in 2011 and Williams was granted a new trial. But his new Clay County Criminal Attorney argued Williams' actions were protected under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. A judge agreed and the Clay County criminal charge was dismissed.

And, now that the aggravated battery sentence has been vacated in this Clay County violent crimes case, Williams' defense attorney will likely pursue a similar Stand Your Ground claim. Because both charges stem from the same incident, it stands to reason that if a judge thought Williams was warranted in fearing for his life and shooting, the same thinking would apply on the aggravated battery charge as with the murder charge. Moreover, the judge wrote in his ruling vacating the sentence that Williams' first lawyer erred in not filing a Stand Your Ground motion.

Florida was the first state in the nation to pass a Stand Your Ground law, which does not require a person to retreat if they reasonably fear for their life or serious bodily injury. The law has become particularly polarizing of late with some high-profile cases, including the shooting last month of an unarmed Jacksonville teen at a gas station following an argument over loud music. Opponents argue it has been too loosely applied and should be repealed because it condones unnecessary violence.

In Williams' case, a neighbor brought his daughter and her friend to Williams' house to collect $35. An argument began on the porch and Williams went inside to get a rifle. In his opinion vacating the sentence, the judge wrote the neighbor approached Williams in an aggressive manner and was trying to come into Williams' home without permission. Williams said he heard a loud boom when the neighbor charged at him and Williams fired. The neighbor was shot twice and his daughter's friend was shot in the leg.

With the current laws in Florida, a Stand Your Ground claim should at least be examined by a Clay County Violent Crimes Attorney in any confrontation that escalates into gunfire. The claim is always argued before trial. If it is granted, the case is dismissed and there is no need for a trial.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County Gun Crime Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Assistant college basketball coach in Jacksonville on recruiting trip arrested for DUI

December 18, 2012

A Georgia Tech assistant basketball coach was arrested for DUI while in Jacksonville this month on a recruiting trip. Postorino was arrested about 3:20 a.m. Dec. 9 and released from jail that afternoon, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He is facing a Duval County misdemeanor DUI charge, which has a maximum penalty of six months in jail, though it is extremely rare for a person to be sentenced to jail on a first DUI charge.

A more common sentence for first-time DUI defendants is probation, a driver's license suspension and a fine. But that's assuming Postorino is either found guilty of or ends up pleading to the DUI. There's a strict set of rules officers must follow when making DUI arrests. Our Jacksonville DUI attorney at The Mussallem Law Firm, P.A., has represented hundreds of clients charged with DUI in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties and investigates fully to make sure each step was followed. In some cases, the DUI is reduced to reckless driving - which not only has less serious penalties, but also keeps a DUI off a person's record.

Many times, a DUI defense hinges on how the arrest was made and how the tests are conducted. A DUI always starts with a traffic stop and the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you're committing a crime or traffic infraction before he or she even approaches your vehicle. Postorino also has a ticket for crossing the median, so that's likely what police will say led the officer to pull him over. After the officer makes contact with you, he or she must see or detect more suspicious activity before asking you to perform field sobriety exercises. The typical reasons our Jacksonville DUI Attorney has seen in police reports through the years are: red or watery eyes, a subject smelling like alcohol, slurred speech or the person swaying when he or she stood or walked.

If an officer's judgment is you've shown at least one of those signs, he or she will likely then ask you to perform field sobriety exercises. The exercises are designed to determine if you are too impaired to be driving. The tests include the officer asking you to: walk in a straight line and turn around; stand on one leg; stand with your legs together to test your balance; move your arms to touch your finger to your nose and recite the alphabet or a series of numbers in order (Rhomberg Alphabet). Each individual test has various indicators of impairment and, if you reach a certain threshold, you do not pass and will be arrested for DUI in Jacksonville.

From there, you'll be taken to the police station and will be asked to blow into a Breathalyzer machine. If you have agreed to take the test, our Jacksonville Driving Under the Influence attorney will launch a step-by-step review of the process. If that test is not administered properly and in adherence with state law, it cannot be used as evidence against you. The same holds true for the traffic stop. If any element is not followed according to the law, the traffic stop can be thrown out - essentially leaving the state without its most important evidence.

Our Jacksonville DUI Attorney closely examines cases from start to finish to determine if there is a legal reason to have the traffic stop suppressed by the judge, or if any other steps were not done according to the letter of the law.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Duval County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville DUI attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Clay County detectives arrest dozens in countywide drug sweep

December 14, 2012

Clay County detectives were in round-up mode last week, arresting more than three dozen people after targeting 48 for arrests on various drug crimes. Charges are as minor as misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, but most of the counts involve some sort of sale of a controlled substance or crack cocaine, according to a report by News4Jax. Police arrested 29 people the first day of the sweep and arrests trickled in the rest of the week.

The group does not appear to be one massive drug ring, but the Clay County Drug Arrests are the results of various ongoing investigations into drug activity throughout the county. Drug charges in Florida, particularly charges involving the sale of narcotics, can be extremely serious charges. Many people charged with sale in these Clay County drug crimes may not even be the ones physically conducting the actual sale or the people profiting from the transaction. Anyone involved in the delivery of drugs, a "middle man" so to speak, can also be charged with selling drugs.

There are also a variety of enhanced penalties the state can use in drug cases and Clay County authorities are seeking those in several of the recent arrests, according to the television station report. For example, penalties can escalate for people charged with the sale or delivery of drugs within 1,000 feet of a church or school and at least a dozen of those brought in on the Clay County drug crimes charges have that enhanced penalty attached.
Those enhancers will move a second-degree felony up to a first-degree felony, meaning a maximum penalty of 15 years becomes a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Additionally, the charge for selling within 1,000 feet of a school brings with it a mandatory three-year prison sentence. That's important for two reasons. Number one, the judge has no discretion in his or her sentence and the defendant be sentenced to at least three years in prison. Second, mandatory sentences must be served in their entirety. In traditional sentences, people serve about 85 percent of their sentence if they stay out of trouble in prison. Gain time is not an option on mandatory sentences, so three years means three full years.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are Clay County probation and drug court options for people that could help them avoid jail or prison time, depending on their past criminal record. Our Clay County Drug Crimes Attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with nearly every drug crime the state can charge and knows what to look for in these cases in terms of evidence, as well as options for people should they choose to negotiate with the state.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal drug defense attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County Drug Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

JEA worker pleads guilty to grand theft, gets prison time for altering customer accounts

December 12, 2012

A JEA worker was sentenced to 13 months in prison for changing customer account records, resulting in an estimated $50,000 in lost revenue to the Jacksonville city-owned utility. Stephen Smith pleaded guilty last week to second-degree grand theft in Duval County, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. After his prison term, he'll be on Jacksonville probation for two more years, the newspaper reported. The 14-year employee will also forfeit his pension as a part of his deal and the money will be used to pay back the utility for its loss.

Smith pleaded guilty to entering the JEA system and closing accounts with large balances, then reopening another account in the same person's name so the customer's outstanding balance was wiped away, according to a newspaper report when Smith was first suspended without pay in March. Utility officials were waiting for the legal case to play out before firing him, but his termination is now inevitable.

Smith also faced Jacksonville fraud and identity theft charges because he was using social security numbers and other personal information to start the various accounts. Smith's Jacksonville criminal defense in the case was likely very limited, especially because all of his work would have most likely been traceable through the JEA computer system. In initial media reports, people claimed to have paid a JEA worker cash to settle an account, though it's not clear how much money Smith received himself. Regardless of how much money Smith himself received, the theft is calculated on the loss of revenue to JEA. By changing the records, he was stealing from JEA - whether the money ended up in his pocket or not. What his motivation was and how he benefited from the theft are more for the sentencing phase of his case than for determining his guilt or what crimes he could be charged with.

Crimes that occur on the job like this can be devastating for the defendant. In Smith's case, his retirement thus far is completely gone. Even if it was not part of the plea deal, he likely would have lost it anyway. The state of Florida allows for employees who commit a felony in Jacksonville or anywhere else related to their job to have their pension revoked. Most local retirement plans like the city pension JEA employees are part of have that same provision. The pension money likely had to be the source to pay JEA back because when Smith returns from prison, he will undoubtedly have a difficult time finding work with this conviction on his record. There are so many qualified people looking for work that employers don't have to take a risk by hiring someone who went to prison for stealing from their employer.

Our Jacksonville Theft Attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with stealing everything from thousands of dollars to a few items from a store. In many cases, there are diversionary programs available for first-time offenders that could allow you or your loved one to avoid jail time, depending on the charge.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Theft Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge refused to allow man in Landing hit and run to plead guilty to Jacksonville DUI

December 10, 2012

The state has two weeks to charge the man behind the wheel in a Jacksonville Landing hit-and-run death with a felony, or a judge will accept his guilty plea to a misdemeanor DUI in Duval County. Brain Patterson tried to plead guilty to the misdemeanor DUI last week related to the August case, just one week after picking up another DUI in Baker County, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The first Jacksonville Driving Under the Influence charge came after Patterson was being beaten on his way to his car following a nightclub dispute and, when he sped off, a man on the hood of his car fell of and Patterson ran him over. The man died days later at a local hospital.

The Duval County assistant state attorney said his decision to seek a Duval County felony charge is not related to Patterson's second DUI, the newspaper reported. As a Jacksonville DUI attorney, that argument sounds pretty thin. The incident occurred in August and, two weeks later, the state filed a murder charge against the man who was beating Patterson while Patterson tried to drive away.
Patterson was arrested and charged with a DUI in October, once the blood results came back from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He had two court dates in November, but when he tried to enter a plea last week to the Jacksonville criminal charge, the state objected and the judge gave the state two weeks to file new charges.

If the state was interested in filing felony charges in Duval all along, why didn't prosecutors file felony charges from the start? And why did they wait three court hearings to say they needed more time to investigate to determine if felony charges would apply?

Patterson made his own bed by getting a Baker County DUI with another DUI case pending, but the state should also have to live with its initial charging decision. Patterson's Jacksonville Bond was revoked after his second arrest, so he's in jail awaiting the resolution of the case. He faces a maximum of 6 months in jail on the DUI, which is now a first degree misdemeanor. If the charges are upgraded to a third-degree felony, Patterson would face a maximum of five years in prison.

And the judge is well within his right to refuse a plea. By nature of our judicial system, pleas have to be accepted by the judge. But it is extremely rare when a plea is not accepted. This decision was likely influenced by the prosecutor's objection to the plea. The judge did not flatly deny it, but instead imposed a deadline on the state to make a decision. This is a prime example of the importance of staying out of trouble when a case is pending against you. Not only is Patterson in jail instead of free until the case resolves, he could be facing considerably more time and a potential felony conviction.

If you or a loved one needs a DUI Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County DUI Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman whose boyfriend was killed by Jacksonville police found guilty again of second-degree murder

December 7, 2012

A Jacksonville woman was found guilty of second-degree murder for a second time, convicted for her role in planning the gas station robbery her boyfriend was committing when he was shot by two Jacksonville police officers in 2010. Shaketa Jones was found guilty last week in the death of Jessie Cooper, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. She had been found guilty of the same Jacksonville criminal charge last year, but an appellate court reversed the conviction, ruling the judge put a person on the jury over the valid objection of the Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney representing Jones, the newspaper reported.

Jones faces up to life in prison after her conviction. The first time, she was sentenced to 35 years. With the new conviction, that sentence has no bearing on this case and her fate is in the hands of a different judge this time around. Jones was charged under a provision in Florida law that allows prosecutors to charge a person with murder if they are committing a felony at the time another person is killed. The state pegged Jones as the mastermind behind a series of robberies in a Jacksonville neighborhood that had escalated to the point police were watching Jones in the days leading up to this attempted robbery, the newspaper reported. Jones, who was also convicted of armed robbery, was accused of planning the robbery and acting as a lookout from a nearby parking lot, talking with Cooper on the phone while he approached the gas station. Cooper pointed a gun at the store manager and grabbed thousands of dollars Jones knew the manager would be taking to a local bank at that time, the newspaper reported. Police were on the scene immediately and blocked Cooper from leaving. Police said Cooper refused to get out of his car and pointed a gun before two officers fired at Cooper, killing him, the newspaper reported.

Jones' Duval County criminal attorney argued she was not responsible for the murder because police did not have to shoot Cooper, but the jury sided with the state. Her case is another example that a person does not have to be the one who pulls the trigger to be convicted of murder.

A group of three teens were convicted of felony murder in a similar case in 2009. In that case, their unarmed getaway driver from a robbery of a video game store led police on a high-speed chase and was shot by an officer after refusing to put his hands up in a dark Jacksonville backyard. The teens were miles away when their friend was shot, but cases like theirs and Jones' are becoming increasingly common in Jacksonville and throughout Florida.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Gun Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Man facing DUI charge in Jacksonville Landing hit-and-run picks up another DUI arrest

December 5, 2012

A Jacksonville man who had been out on bail on a Duval County DUI for an accident that killed a man at the Jacksonville Landing is now back in jail after being arrested for Driving Under the Influence again. The judge revoked his bond and Brian Patterson, 32, is not expected to be released until the Landing case is resolved, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Patterson was arrested last week for a DUI in Baker County after police pulled him over just before 3 a.m. for driving erratically and the officer smelled alcohol, found a beer bottle in a cup holder and saw an empty beer can inside the car, the newspaper reported.

Legally, the two cases are not connected. In the Landing case, Patterson was being beaten after leaving a nightclub in August and tried to flee in his truck. Taylor Evans was on the hood of the truck, fell off and died in a local hospital days after Patterson ran him over and drove away, the newspaper reported. One of the men beating Patterson was charged with murder and Patterson was charged in October with a misdemeanor DUI charge in Jacksonville, Florida. Since it was Patterson's first Duval County DUI, his maximum penalty is six months in jail. Even with the second arrest, that maximum penalty cannot legally increase.

But make no mistake, the second arrest will almost certainly play a role in Patterson's sentence, if he is convicted in the Landing case or decides to plead to the Drunk Driving charge. Signs of remorse and that a defendant has learned his or her lesson go a long way for judges in determining a sentence. Picking up another DUI just three months after drinking and driving in a case where a person was killed will not sit well at all in the mind of the court. Rarely does a person receive any jail time for a first conviction on a DUI in Jacksonville, but the circumstances of Patterson's case - most notably that Evans was killed - may have made it more likely for his sentence to include time behind bars. This latest arrest would seem to increase the likelihood that Patterson's sentence will include some sort of jail time.

The second DUI could be the one that sends Patterson to jail for little longer, if the cases run separately. When a person is convicted of a second DUI in a five-year span, he or she could be sentenced to up to nine months in jail, but must serve at least 10 days. In many cases, those days are split up so a person serves their time over several weekends in Jacksonville weekend jail. Another option for Patterson could be getting prosecutors for both cases involved to reach a plea that includes both Florida drunk driving charges. Perhaps he pleads guilty to one, even both, and a sentence is negotiated between the two Assistant State Attorneys and his Jacksonville DUI Attorney. Even though the cases are in different counties and even in different judicial circuits with different elected state attorneys, it is not uncommon for a defendant to reach a global settlement on the various charges he or she is facing.

Our Jacksonville DUI attorney has represented hundreds of clients facing DUI charges - some on their first charge, others who had been through the system before. DUI charges are often difficult for the state because there are specific rules officers must follow in a DUI arrest and, if they are not followed correctly, much of the evidence in the case can be suppressed by the judge.

If you or a loved one needs a DUI attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County DUI Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man who shot Jacksonville teen over loud music dispute charged with murder

December 3, 2012

A Brevard County man is facing a Duval County second-degree murder charge for shooting and killing a Jacksonville teen outside a Southside gas station. Michael David Dunn, 45, is being held in the Duval County jail awaiting trial for the November shooting, and the story his criminal defense lawyer is giving differs dramatically from what police and other witnesses say happened, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Dunn and a group of four teens including Jordan Russell Davis got into an argument after Dunn asked them to turn their loud music down, the newspaper reported. Dunn then fired several shots into the car and then fired off a few more as it started to leave and then drove off himself, the newspaper reported. But Dunn's criminal attorney says he only acted because the teens pointed a shotgun at him. Police said there were no weapons found in the car and the teens' vehicle never made it out of the parking lot, implying it it's unlikely they could have ditched the gun if there was one. Dunn, who was in town for his son's wedding, said he didn't know Davis was killed or that anyone was even injured until he saw it on the news, the newspaper reported. Witnesses got his license plate and police tracked him down in Brevard County last week, though his attorney said he was planning on turning himself in.

Many have drawn parallels to the case involving Trayvon Martin, a teen shot in a Sanford subdivision by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, just as Dunn is. Dunn's criminal defense attorneys have already tried to distance their client from any connections to Zimmerman, saying Dunn is not a "vigilante" and simply responded when threatened, the newspaper reported. Zimmerman's defense will include the Stand Your Ground defense, a Florida law that allows people to use necessary force when they feel threatened instead of being forced to retreat. Dunn's attorneys have not commented on whether they'll ask for a Stand Your Ground hearing, though his next court appearance is still two weeks away.
As it stands now, there are two vastly different stories. And the police report seems to lean more toward the teens than it does Dunn - especially when it comes to the gun. It's one thing to shoot once a gun is pointed at you, but the absence of a gun would make it a much tougher sell that Dunn had little other choice than to shoot into the car.

Remember, this Jacksonville Gun case is still less than two weeks old and there is plenty of investigating yet to be done on both sides. Once more information becomes available, the pieces will likely start to fill in. Dunn appears to be facing an uphill battle at this point, yet this is exactly why our criminal justice system provides for a right to a trial and not simply snap judgments in the immediate aftermath of tragic event.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.